Friday, December 19, 2008

Thinking of Tibor

Some New Yorkers remember Andy Kaufman’s famous after-concert party when he invited the entire Carnegie Hall audience for milk and cookies. Well, I have not been there. But I do remember Tibor Kalman’ s equally remarkable supermarket party, ten years ago, when his long-awaited book arrived from the publisher. (Tibor Kalman: Perverse Optimist, Booth-Clibborn, 1998)

The invite featured milk bottles in a refrigerated deli case - you could expect anything from Tibor. Arriving at the given address, I did not expect, however, to find a local Gristede’s as a party locale. Everything in the supermarket was left untouched; they only turned off the overhead lights. The place was eerily illuminated by concealed shelf lighting in the aisles. (Every supermarket has this kind of lighting – yet I have never noticed it before.) A jazz band was playing somewhere; people sipped champagne, looking at the shelves with attention worthy of a museum show.

Towards the end, Laurene and I looked for Tibor, to offer our thanks and congratulations. “Did you get a souvenir?” he asked. I did not understand. Already in wheelchair, he turned around and picked a random can from the shelf. “June peas, they are the best”, he said with satisfaction, and signed the can.

I still have this can, ten years later. Here it is.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Holy Chrysler

orshipers at Greater Grace Temple, a Pentecostal church in Detroit, prayed on Sunday, December 7, for an automobile industry miracle. Three S.U.V.’s on the stage, a Chevrolet Tahoe, Ford Escape and Chrysler Aspen on loan from local dealerships, were all gas-electric hybrids, and Bishop Ellis urged worshipers to combat the region’s woes by mixing hope with faith in God.

Can this be real - or is this another Saturday Night Live spoof? According to Steven Skov Holt, events like this fit into “today’s pattern of post-credibility”. “The news regularly stuns us with one improbable story after another. Even when something bizarre but undeniably real happens to us, our first reaction is often one of disbelief.” (see Steven Skov Holt and Mara Holt Skov, Manufractured, Chronicle Books, 2008)

It is not surprising that today’s art, architecture, and design become more exuberant and almost unbelievable in scale, technique, and complexity. It is getting increasingly hard to simply compete with reality.